Second Helpings: Italian

A smattering of Italian in this week's "Second Helpings."

The weekly Chronicle feature "Second Helpings" offers readers the opportunity to sample tasty, bite-sized restaurant listings compiled from new and previous reviews, guides, and poll results. This week's entries were updated by Chronicle Cuisines writer MM Pack from an original publication date of 7/03/99, when they were written by Pableaux Johnson. When you need quick, reliable information about Austin eateries, check here.

Vespaio

1610 S. Congress, 441-6100 Tue-Sat, 5:30-10:30pm; Sun, 5:30-10pm

Vespaio is the latest innovative Italian effort from local chef Alan Lazarus. In its short history, the South Austin eatery has garnered considerable attention for creative and well-balanced Italian dishes. The menu also features a deep selection of grilled entrées, wood-oven pizzas, inventive pasta dishes, and a great barside antipasto case. The new room has also received consistently high marks for service, wine selection, and atmosphere.

Carmelo's

504 E. Fifth, 477-7497 Mon-Fri, 11am-2pm; Sun-Thu, 5-10pm; Fri-Sat, 5-11pm

www.carmelositalrest.com

Carmelo's opened its Austin branch in 1985, making this old-guard Italian establishment a true survivor. Located a stone's throw from the bustling traffic of East Sixth Street, Carmelo's serves a wide selection of traditional Italian dishes along with a few nontraditional ringers. The menu reads like an edible encyclopedia, with numerous entries from just about every Italian food group, including a "Tableside" section for diners who crave more theatrical dishes. Desserts include classic flambé tableside offerings, including Bananas Foster and Cherries Jubilee.

Mezzaluna

310 Colorado, 472-6770 Mon-Thu, 11am-10:30pm Fri, 11am-11pm; Sat, 4-11pm; Sun, 6-11pm

Mezzaluna has toed the line between elegant and trendy since the Warehouse District was a distant dream -- and it's been packed with downtown hipsters ever since. The stylish, quasi-industrial bar and dining area (designed by prolific local architect Dick Clark) stays consistently packed, especially on weekend nights. House specialties and traditional dishes run in the moderate to expensive range, but always attract an enthusiastic clientele.

Mezzaluna Gateway

9901 Capital of Texas Hwy. (Gateway Market Shopping Center), 372-8030 Mon-Thu, 11am-10:30pm; Fri, 11am-11pm; Sat, 5-11pm; Sun, 5-10pm

This outpost of Reed Clemons' popular Italian establishment serves the denizens of Austin's fast-growing northbound population center. After a somewhat shaky start, Mezzaluna Gateway has settled into a commendably comfortable rhythm with notable entrées and impeccable service. If you're not in the mood for a full upstairs dining treatment, order from the appetizer and pizza menu at the downstairs bar from a more casual experience.

Romeo's

1500 Barton Springs Rd., 476-1090 Sun-Thu, 11am-10pm; Fri-Sat, 11am-11pm;

5800 Burnet Rd., 419-7567 Sun-Thu, 11am-10pm; Fri-Sat, 11am-11pm

www.romeos.citysearch.com

Plastic grapes, chianti bottles, and "straight-outta-Mama's kitchen" Italian food. Both locations serve up sizable portions of no-nonsense Italian standards (pastas, pizzas, and various seafood dishes) for surprisingly reasonable prices. Dinnertime winners include Shrimp Romeo (grilled Parmesan shrimp with artichoke hearts, mushrooms, and a light pesto cream sauce) and vegetable ziti. Not exactly a refined romantic atmosphere, but the seductive proof is on the plate.

Treehouse Bar & Grill

2201 College, 443-4200 Mon-Thu, 11am-2pm, 5-9pm; Fri, 11am-2pm, 5-10pm; Sat-Sun, 5-10pm

The menu at this South Austin establishment tends to run the gamut, mixing Norwegian salmon, steaks, and quasi-Cajun blackened chicken into their mid-range Italian menu. The usual suspects are (of course) in evidence: chicken Piccata, pasta with scampi, and lasagne (vegetarian and con carne). Deckside dining and a reasonably priced wine list make this a good choice for casual meals when the weather is not particularly punishing. Four lunch specials (including a sandwich option) available.

Carrabba's Italian Grill

11590 Research, 345-8232 Mon-Tue, 4:30-10pm; Wed-Thu, 11am-10pm;

Fri, 11am-11pm; Sat, 4-11pm; Sun, 3-9pm

6406 N. I-35, 419-1220

Mon-Thu, 4:30-10pm

Fri, 4:30-11pm; Sat, 4-11pm; Sun, 3-9pm

www.carrabbas.com

This franchised Italian grill sprung from a Houston-based Italian dynasty of the same name and was one of the first Texas restaurants to feature an "open kitchen" atmosphere. Order from the pasta bar or choose one of the wood-fired pizzas or grilled specialties. The menu also includes requisite manicotti, lasagna, and spaghetti options.

Vinny's Italian Cafe

1003 Barton Springs Rd, 482-8484

Sun-Thu, 11am-10pm; Fri, 11am-11pm, Sat, 4-11pm

Longtime residents will remember this Barton Springs neighborhood joint as the former Holiday House location. The menu features all the pasta dishes you'd expect from a guy named Vinny, and the happy hour bellinis are rumored to be a notable bargain.

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